Posts Tagged ‘Workers’ Self-Management’

The Success of Workers’ Industrial Management in the Spanish Civil War

December 27, 2018

I found this passage about how the anarchist workers in Catalonia were able to manage their firms and industries successfully during the Spanish Civil War in David Miller’s Anarchism (London: J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1984).

The problems of collectivization in the cities were in many respects greater than those encountered in the countryside. Collectivization followed one of two paths, depending on whether the previous owner of the factory or workshop in question stayed put or fled. If he stayed, the C.N.T. encouraged him to continue with his management functions, while installing a ‘control committee’ of its own members to supervise the general running of the enterprise. If he left, the union quickly developed its own management structure, promoting technicians and skilled workers in positions of responsibility. These measures appear to have struck a sensible balance between industrial democracy and the requirements of efficient production, and eye-witness accounts (such as Borkenau’s) testify to their success. After visiting the workshops of the Barcelona b8us company, he wrote that, ‘It is an extraordinary achievement for a group of workers to take over a factory, under however favourable conditions, and within a few days to make it run with complete regularity. It bears brilliant witness to the general standard of efficiency of the Catalan worker and to the organizing capacities of the Barcelona trade unions. For one must not forget that this firm has lost its whole managing staff. In addition, whole branches of industry were reorganized. Contrary to what one might have expected, this took the form of combining small workshops and businesses into larger establishments. For instance in Barcelona the number of plants in the tanning industry was reduced from seventy-one to forty, and in glass-making from one hundred to thirty; over nine hundred barber’s shops and beauty parlours were consolidated into some two hundred large shops.

Barcelona was the main scene of urban collectivization, though a number of other cities (such as Alcoy) also witnessed developments of a similar kind. In the Catalonian capital it embraced all forms of transport, the major utilities, the telephone service, the textile and metal industries, much of the food industry, and many thousands of smaller enterprises. Orwell has left us a memorable picture of life in a city ;where the working class was in the saddle’. As a demonstration of the creative capacities of that class, it is surely impressive. (pp. 164-5).

However, Miller goes on to say that it was less successful as a vindication of anarcho-communist theory, because of the problems of coordinating the various stages of the process of production and the collapse of the banking industry, with the result many firms were unable to obtain the raw materials they needed and had to work part time. The other problem was the difference in wealth between the workers taking over the factories and workshops. Some were comparatively well off, while others were in serious debt, and this disparity continued after collectivization.

The Russian experiment in workers’ control after the October Revolution collapsed because the workers’ didn’t have the skills and education to manage industry. It was also crushed by the rapidly increasing grip and monolithic control of the Bolshevik party and bureaucracy, so that the Left Communists, who still advocated it, were crushed for supporting ‘anarcho-syndicalist deviation’. However, the Yugoslavian communist made workers’ control part of their ‘self-management’ system. In Argentina after the last recession earlier in this century, many of the failing firms were handed over to the workers to run by their management, and they were largely successful in turning the fortunes of these companies around as Naomi Wolf observed in one of her videos. They’ve since been handed back to their former management after the economy recovered. However, the Mondragon cooperatives founded in the Basque region of Spain are a continuing success.

As the defenders of capital and the rights of owners and management, the Tories will do everything to discredit organized labour. One of their favourite weapons against the trade unions has been making sure that the public remembers the 1970s as a period of strikes and industrial disruption, and constantly playing up the ‘Winter of Discontent’ in 1979. The results of this has been that worker’s rights have been continually eroded as the power of the unions has been curtailed. Millions of people are now trapped in insecure jobs in the gig economy, with no set hours of work or rights to sick pay, holidays, maternity leave and so on. This should be ended now.

I’m not advocating anything as radical as the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of an anarchist utopia. But the example of the Catalan experiment in workers’ control shows that worker managers can conduct industry responsibly, efficiently and with proper care for their workers. There should thus be absolutely no objection to putting employees on the boards of the companies they work for.

Books ‘For A Worker’s Chamber’ and ‘Crimes of Empire’ Published with Lulu

May 11, 2018

This week I’ve working on publishing my books For A Workers’ Chamber and Crimes of Empire with the print on demand publishers, Lulu. This has now been done, and the books are now available, if anybody wants them.

For A Workers’ Chamber is my book arguing that as parliament is dominated by millionaires and company directors, to be really representative working people need their own parliamentary chamber within it. My blurb for it runs as follows

The book argues that working people need their own separate chamber in parliament to balance the domination of millionaire MPs holding directorships. It uses Marx’s analysis of the state as an instrument of class domination, and examines schemes for working people’s political autonomy from the Chartists, through anarchism, syndicalism, Fascism and the system of workers’ self-management in Yugoslavia, as well as the corporative management system adopted in post-War Europe. This set up negotiations between government, management and unions to settle industrial disputes and manage the economy.

It’s ISBN is 9780244386061.

Crimes of Empire is the book Florence suggested I write all that time ago, about how America and the West has overthrown generally liberal, socialist regimes, and replaced with them Fascist dictatorships when they have been an obstacle to western corporate or political interests.

The blurb for this runs

The book discusses the current wars fought by the West in the Middle East, and shows that these are not being fought for humanitarian reasons, but are part of a long history of American coups and political interference since World War II. These have been to overthrow regimes that have blocked or resisted American corporate or political interests. This policy is behind the Maidan Revolution in Ukraine, the invasions and attacks on Iraq, Libya and Syria, and conflicts with Russia and Iran.

It’s ISBN is 978-0-244-08662-6.

Lulu are at http://www.lulu.com/

These are the print versions of the books. For a Workers’ Chamber is £4.50 and Crimes of Empire £10.00. The prices are exclusive of tax. I am planning to make e-book versions of them, which should bring the price down further for people who want to read them on computer or Kindle.

‘For A Workers’ Chamber’ Cover Art

April 21, 2018

Okay, I’ve completed the cover art for another book I wrote a few years ago. Entitled For a Workers’ Chamber, this argues that as most MPs are millionaires and company directors, who legislate in favour of their own class, there should be a separate parliamentary chamber for working people, elected by working people, to represent and legislate for them.

I go through and survey the various movements to put working people either in parliament, or create legislative assemblies especially for them, from the Chartists in the 19th century, the Soviet movements in Russia and Germany, anarcho-syndicalism, Fascism and the corporative state, and post-War British form of corporativism, in which unions were also to be involved in industrial consultations, before this all collapsed with the election of Maggie Thatcher. Who was also a corporativist, but had absolute no desire to involve working people or their unions. It also discusses the system of workers’ self-management in the former Yugoslavia, where workers not only had voice in running their factories, but there were also legislative assemblies at the local and national level specifically to represent them.

I haven’t been able to find a mainstream publisher, so I’m going to publish it with the print-on-demand people, Lulu. Here’s the art.

I hope you like it.

My Unpublished Book Arguing for Worker’s Chamber in Parliament

November 21, 2017

I’ve begun compiling a list of articles on the various coups and other methods the US and the other western countries have used to overthrow, destabilise or remove awkward governments and politicians around the world, when those nations have been seen as obstructions to the goals of western, and particularly American, imperialism and corporate interests. ‘Florence’, one of the great commenters on this blog, suggested that I should write a book on the subject, to which she can point people. She’s worried that too few people now, including those on the left, are aware of the struggle against dictators like General Pinochet and the other butchers in the Developing World, who were set up by us and the Americans as part of the Cold War campaign against Communism. Many of the regimes they overthrew weren’t actually Communist or even necessarily socialist. But they were all reforming administrations, whose changes threatened the power and profits of the big American corporations. Or else they were otherwise considered too soft on the Communist threat. So, I’m compiling a list of the various articles I’ve written on this subject, ready to select some of the best or most pertinent and edit them into book form.

A year or so ago I got so sick of the way parliament was dominated by the very rich, who seem to pass legislation only to benefit themselves rather than the poor, that I wrote a pamphlet, For A Workers’ Chamber. This argued that what was needed to correct this, and really empower working people, was a separate chamber in parliament directly elected by working people themselves. I’ve tried submitting it to various publishers, but so far those I’ve approached have turned it down.

Here’s a brief summary of the pamphlet and its arguments.

For A Workers’ Chamber is a short work of 22, 551 words, arguing that a special representative chamber composed by representatives of the working class, elected by the working class, is necessary to counter the domination of parliament by millionaires and the heads of industries. These have pushed through legislation exclusively benefiting their class against the best interests of working people. It is only by placing working people back into parliament that this can be halted and reversed.

The pamphlet traces the idea of workers’ political autonomy from Robert Owen’s Grand Consolidated Trade Union, Anarchism, Syndicalism and Guild Socialism, the workers’, socialists and peasant councils in Revolutionary Russia, and Germany and Austria during the 1919 Raeterevolution. It also discusses the emergence corporatist systems of government from the Utopian Socialism Saint-Simon in the 19th century onwards. After Saint-Simon, corporativism next became a much vaunted element in the constitution of Fascist Italy in the 20th century. This merged trade unions into industrial corporations dominated by management and big business in order to control them. This destroyed workers autonomy and reduced them to the instruments of the Fascist state and business class. It also discusses the development of liberal forms of corporatism, which emerged in Britain during and after the First and Second World War. These also promised to give working people a voice in industrial management alongside government and management. However, it also resulted in the drafting of increasingly authoritarian legislation by both the Labour party and the Conservatives to curb trade union power and industrial discontent. It also examines the system of workers’ control and producers’ chambers, which formed the basis of the self-management system erected by Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas in Tito’s Yugoslavia. It also recommends the part-nationalisation of those companies seeking to perform the functions of state agencies through government outsourcing, or which seek to influence government policy through the election of the directors and senior management to parliament as a way of curtailing their influence and subordinating them to the state and the wishes of the British electorate.

The book examines the class basis of parliamentary democracy as it emerged in Britain, and the Marxist critique of the state in the writings of Marx and Engels themselves and Lenin during the Russian Revolution, including those of non-Bolshevik, European Social Democrats, like Karl Kautsky, who rejected the need for institutional workers’ power in favour of universal suffrage. It also critically analyzes Tony Crosland’s arguments against nationalisation and workers’ control. The book does not argue that parliamentary democracy should be abandoned, but that a workers’ chamber should be added to it to make it more representative. The final chapter examines the possible advantages and disadvantages of such a system, and the problems that must be avoided in the creation of such a chamber.

I’m considering publishing the pamphlet myself in some form or other, possibly with Lulu. In the meantime, if anyone’s interested in reading a bit of it, please leave a comment below and I’ll send you a sample chapter.

Fabian Pamphlet on the Future of Industrial Democracy : Part 1

November 11, 2017

The Future of Industrial Democracy, by William McCarthy (London: Fabian Society 1988).

A few days ago I put up a piece about a Fabian Society pamphlet on Workers’ Control in Yugoslavia, by Frederick Singleton and Anthony Topham. This discussed the system of workers’ self-management of industry introduced by Tito in Communist Yugoslavia, based on the idea of Edvard Kardelj and Milovan Djilas, and what lessons could be learnt from it for industrial democracy in Britain.

William McCarthy, the author of the above pamphlet, was a fellow of Nuffield College and lecturer in industrial relations at Oxford University. From 1979 onwards he was the Labour party spokesman on employment in the House of Lords. He was the author of another Fabian pamphlet, Freedom at Work: towards the reform of Tory employment law.

The pamphlet followed the Bullock report advocating the election of workers to the management board, critiquing it and advocating that the system should be extended to firms employing fewer than the thousands of employees that were the subject of reforms suggested by Bullock. The blurb for the pamphlet on the back page runs

The notion of industrial democracy – the involvement of employees in managerial decisions – has been around at least since the time of the Guild Socialists. However, there has been little new thinking on the subject since the Bullock Committee reported in the 1970s. This pamphlet redresses this by re-examining the Bullock proposals and looking at the experience of other European countries.

William McCarthy outlines the three main arguments for industrial democracy:
* it improves business efficiency and performance;
* most workers want a greater say in their work environment;
* a political democracy which is not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing is incomplete and potentially unstable.

He believes, however, that the emphasis should no longer be on putting “workers in the boardroom.” Instead, he argues that workers ought to be involved below the level of the board, through elected joint councils at both plant and enterprise levels. These councils would have the right to be informed about a wide range of subjects such as on redundancies and closures. Management would also be obliged to provide worker representatives with a full picture of the economic and financial position of the firm.

William McCarthy argues that Bullock’s plan to limit worker directors to unionised firms with over 2,000 workers is out of date. it would exclude over two thirds of the work force and would apply only to a steadily shrinking and increasingly atypical fraction of the total labour force. As the aim should be to cover the widest possible number, he advocates the setting up of the joint councils in all private and public companies, unionised or otherwise, that employ more than 500 workers.

In all cases a majority of the work force would need to vote in favour of a joint council. This vote would be binding on the employer and suitable sanctions would be available to ensure enforcement.

Finally, he believes that this frame of industrial democracy would allow unions an opportunity to challenge their negative and reactionary image and would demonstrate the contribution to better industrial relations and greater economic efficiency which can be made by an alliance between management, workers and unions.

The contents consist of an introduction, with a section of statutory rights, and then the following chapters.

1: The Objectives of Industrial Democracy, with sections on syndicalism, Job Satisfaction and Economic and Social Benefits;

2: Powers and Functions, with sections on information, consultation, areas of joint decision, union objection, and co-determination;

3: Composition and Principles of Representation, with sections on selectivity, the European experience, ideas and legal framework.

Chapter 4: is a summary and conclusion.

The section on Syndicalism gives a brief history of the idea of industrial democracy in Britain from the 17th century Diggers during the British Civil War onwards. It says

The first of these [arguments for industrial democracy – employee rights] is as old as socialism. During the seventeenth century, Winstanley and the Diggers advocated the abolition of landlords and a system of production based on the common ownership of land. During the first half o the 19th century, Marx developed his doctrine that the capitalist system both exploited and “alienated” the industrial workers, subjecting them to the domination of the bourgeoisie who owned the means of production. Under capitalism, said Marx, workers lost all control over the product of their labour and “work became a means to an end, rather than an end to itself” (see Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx, R. Tucker, Cambridge University Press, 1961). During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Sorel and his followers developed the notion of “revolutionary syndicalism” – a form of socialism under which the workers, rather than the state, would take over the productive resources of industry. Syndicalists were influential in Europe and America in the years before the First World War. They advocated industrial action, rather than the use of the ballot box, as a means of advancing to socialism (see The Wobblies, P. Renshaw, Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1967).

In Britain, syndicalism came to adopt a more constitutionalist form with the formation of the guild socialists. They did not reject the use of parliamentary action, but argued that a political democracy which was not accompanied by some form of industrial power sharing was incomplete and potentially unstable. This was the basic argument of their most distinguished theoretician, G.D.H. Cole. In more recent times a trenchant restatement of this point of view can be found in Carole Pateman’s Participation and Democratic Theory (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

In his earliest writing Cole went as far as to argue that socialism required that that “the workers must election and control their managers”. As he put it “In politics, we do not call democratic a system in which the proletatiat has the right to organise and exercise what pressure it can on an irresponsible body of rulers: we call it a modified aristocracy; and the same name adequately describes a similar industrial structure” (The World of Labour,Bell, 1913).

Subsequently Cole came to feel that continued existence of a private sector, plus the growth of collective bargaining, required some modification of the syndicalist doctrine behind Guild Socialism. By 1957, he was arguing for workers to be given “a partnership status in private firms, “sharing decisions” with the appropriate level of management C The Case for Industrial Partnership, MacMillan, 1957. This is very much the position advanced by Carole Pateman after her critique of more limited theories of democracy-eg those advanced by Schumpeter and others. These “minimalist” democrats took the view that in the context of the modern state, the most one could demand of a democracy was that it should provide a periodic electoral contest between two competing political elites. After reviewing examples of industrial democracy at work in a number of countries Pateman concluded “…it becomes clear that neither the demands for more participation, not the theory of participatory democracy itself, are based, as is so frequently claimed, on dangerous illusions or on an outmoded and unrealistic theoretical foundation. We can still have a modern, viable theory of democracy which retains the notion of participation at its heart.” (op. cit.)

Continued in Part 2, which will cover the sections on the pamphlet ‘Ideas’ and ‘Legal Framework’.

The Fabian Society’s Recommendations for British Industrial Democracy

July 12, 2016

I’ve put up a number of pieces recently advocating various forms of industrial democracy, from the German and Austrian works councils, to the Guild Socialist version in Britain. The Labour Party was also considering introducing industrial democracy into British firms in the 1970s. This would have been extremely radical, and made up to about 50 per cent of the members of the boards of directors workers elected through the trade unions. The issue was further discussed in the Fabian Society’s pamphlet, Workers in the Boardroom: Fabian Evidence to the Bullock Committee on Industrial Democracy. In ‘Appendix 1: Conclusions of Fabian Tract “Working Power”‘, the Society laid out its recommendations for its introduction into British industry.

The Appendix states

There is now a strong case for more industrial democracy all the way up from the shop floor to the boardroom. Evidence of substantial support amongst employees and their representatives for such a development suggests that new democratic structures would have firm foundations. It is essential, however, if democratic change is to be more than a façade, that it must be backed by trade union machinery and also build on existing collective bargaining systems.

Though there are problems to be overcome in the introduction of employee participation in management, some of the fears about trade union independence lose their validity if, as has been suggested, such participation is seen as an extension of the principles of collective bargaining (if not its actual form) to areas and levels which are now the subject of managerial prerogative. What is proposed is, in face, a system of dual power (employees and management) throughout industry, including the private sector.

Labour’s strategy to promote industrial democracy should be based on the following principles:

1. A single channel of representation.

2. Strengthening, extending and building on collective bargaining.

3. A multi-dimensional approach, capable of affecting managerial decision making at all levels from shop floor to boardroom.

4. Advancing democracy in the private sector as much as the public sector.

A programme to increase industrial democracy should include the following elements.

1. The Increase of trade union membership by establishing the right to join a union, by enabling trade unions, in difficulty over recognition, to use the ACAS and, in the last resort, unilateral arbitration facilities through the court, by reforming wages councils, and by much more vigorous trade union recruitment.

2. The extension of shop floor bargaining giving shop floor representatives minimum facilities as of right, by encouraging the codification of agreements, by widening their scope to include manpower planning, safety and work design (backed by government supported experiments) and by the statutory provision of information as of right.

3. The development of company and group bargaining to fill the missing gap between shop floor bargaining and employee representation on boards.

4. The introduction of employee representatives on boards by, as a first priority, introducing 50 per cent trade union representation on nationalised industry boards and, in the private sector, by setting up a two tier board structure, which a supreme supervisory board on which 50 per cent are trade union representatives, and by changing company obligations to take account of employee interests. In the private sector, employees should be given a choice as whether they want representation on the boards or not-in organised firms through trade union machinery and in non-organised firms, under ACAS supervision. The case for an independent chairman, elected by both sides of the supervisory board, ought to be considered.

5 The recognition of trade union responsibility for a major recruitment and educational effort, and also for a close watch against arbitrary exclusion and improper use of trade union machinery. Case for an independent tribunal as final court of appeal for aggrieved individuals to be considered.

If all, or even some, of the proposals suggested are implemented, they would result in a dramatic improvement in industrial democracy. We accept that they fall short of workers’ self-management. However, they are not a barrier to the achievement of such a goal. On the contrary, they represent an important step towards its. We should always remember democratic change is a movement towards rather than a final arrival.

These are certainly radical proposals, and something like 50 per cent trade union representation may be too much for some people. but we certainly need a system like this, and improved trade union power, to protect British working people from the utter poverty and precarity now imposed by employers through zero hours contracts and so on.

The Coalition’s Secret Courts and Communist Yugoslavia

February 21, 2014

Djilas

Leading Yugoslav Communist and Dissident, Milovan Djilas

In March last year (2013) the Coalition passed legislation setting up a system of secret courts. The irate Yorkshireman at Another Angry Voice has blogged several times on this issue, and has given this short description of them:

As it now stands, defendants (or claimants in civil cases) can be excluded from the hearings where their fates are decided; they will not be allowed to know what the case against them is; they will not be allowed to enter the courtroom; they will not be allowed to know or challenge the details of the case; and they will not be allowed representation from their own lawyer, but will instead be represented (in their absence) by a security-cleared “special advocate”.

See his post ‘The Very Illiberal Democrats’ at http://anotherangryvoice.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/secret-courts-very-illiberal-democrats.html.

The former Yugoslav Communist leader and dissident, Milovan Djilas, describes his experience of being prosecuted through such secret justice in his account of his political career in Yugoslavia in the 1940’s and ’50’s, Rise and Fall. With Edvard Kardelj he was one of the architects of the Yugoslav system of workers’ self-management. This gave employees some control over the management of their businesses through a system of work’s councils, somewhat like the original workers’ soviets in the USSR, before they were taken over and used as an instrument of rigid political control by Lenin. Djilas went further. He attempted to free Yugoslavia from the monolithic control of the country and the economy by the party. He suggested that it should be renamed the ‘Communist League’, and should retreat from political control to give power to the Yugoslavian people and the workers themselves.

Some of these reforms were the result of Tito’s break with Stalin. Tito and the other Yugoslavian Communists were afraid that their country was gradually being transformed by Stalin into a satellite, subject to the control and political and economic demands of the USSR. As a result, they broke with Stalin’s Comintern, and began to seek greater links and a rapprochement with the West. It also led them to re-examine Marxist doctrine. Djilas went further than the others in attacking the Leninist foundations of international Communism. he also adopted a far more critical approach to Marxism itself, seeing it as political tradition, rather than a source of infallible dogma. He states in Rise and Fall that he was hoping to create a united, Socialist Yugoslavia, open to other Socialist parties and movements, in which the Communists would be merely the most active part. For these heresies he was twice prosecuted and imprisoned.

In both of these instances he was tried in a secret court, with judges, who were either prejudiced against him, or under pressure from the authorities to produce a guilty verdict. He was also refused representation by his own lawyer, and had instead one appointed for him by the court. It was therefore a foregone conclusion that he would be found guilt and sent to prison.

Whatever the Coalition may claim to the contrary, this is precisely the type of miscarriage of justice that will occur with these courts in operation. It is a fundamental principle of British justice that not only should justice be done, it should be seen to be done. That’s why, historically, courts have public galleries and the doors were opened to the public when they were in session. These courts violate this most basic principle that has been one of the keystones of the British justice system since the Middle Ages. The result of this will be the false imprisonment of defendants. It is also one step further in the undermining of British democracy itself. It is only a few short steps from these secret courts to the type of dictatorial regime that prosecuted and imprisoned Djilas. This is not just a problem for Communist regimes, but also for supposedly liberal, capitalist countries like Britain. And we cannot be complacent.